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Fort Lafayette, where the Union hanged Robert Kennedy

On October 28, 1864, James A. McMaster, editor of The Freeman's Journaland a leading Copperhead, met with Confederate agents in his New York City office. The men were plotting the November 8 election day takeover of the city by New York Copperheads. The Confederates, dressed in civilian clothes, had crossed the border from Canada with the mission of setting a series of fires in the city as a diversion to aid in the confusion of the uprising. The plot was to include simultaneous uprisings in a half dozen Northern cities, but when word of the scheme was leaked, troops were rushed into the cities to keep order. The Copperheads backed out of the plot, but the Rebel agents stayed, determined to carry out their incendiary plan.

On the night of November 25, 1864, fires broke out in more than a dozen different places in downtown New York. None of them caused much damage before being extinguished, but the blazes were attributed to spies. Despite efforts by the New York police department to find the arsonists, the six Rebels crossed into Canada two days later.

Among the Rebel arsonists was Robert Kennedy, who had escaped six weeks earlier from Johnson's Island Prison. Two weeks after returning to Canada, Kennedy recrossed into New York with a number of agents who were planning to rescue seven Confederate generals scheduled to be transferred from one prison to another by train. When the plan failed, Kennedy, after returning to Canada, decided it was time to go back to his Louisiana home.

Kennedy took a train to Detroit, Michigan, where detectives promptly arrested him and returned him to New York to stand trial for participation in the plot to burn the city. The evidence against Kennedy, though flimsy, was sufficient for a military commission to convict him and sentence him to death. On March 25, 1865, Kennedy was executed by hanging at Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor-the last Confederate soldier executed by the Union government during the Civil War.

While standing on the gallows, Kennedy began to sing: "Trust to luck, trust to luck, Stare Fate in the face, For your heart will be easy, If it's in the right place."